Here's a weird, anxiety-inducing thing about sports fandom, and probably sports: You can lose a series you were leading 3-1, but you don't want to be the 3-1-series-losing-guys. You can be the Buffalo Bills, but you don't want to become The Buffalo Bills, Noted Super Bowl Losers.
The Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, and lost that 3-1 lead a series before (and after) non-fans start caring about baseball's postseason, but we blog-readers are as vulnerable to peer pressure as any other members of a tiny, unimportant in-group, so we worry.
This is why it's fun to follow underdogs, and why every sports interview ever conducted will, given enough time, contort itself into an extended discussion of the ways in which you were disrespected and not believed in. If they believe in you—if you believe in them—there's something to lose.
The Cardinals John Mozeliak has been building must be believed in. Their payroll is relatively low, but it's not that low; they don't have Albert Pujols, but they certainly could have. There was nothing haphazard or accidental or desperate about their construction; everything, from the legions of old-for-their-league hitters with position problems and the hard-throwing 22-year-olds to Pete Kozma getting 300 at-bats, was part of a remarkably successful, efficient plan. Mike Matheny, too, and Joe Kelly over Shelby Miller, all of it.
So we worry, precisely because this team isn't an accident, or the last unassuming gasp of an earlier plan like the 2006 team was. It's not that what they do in the postseason—in 10 games, so far—will tell us anything about the viability of these Cardinals, and if you're a regular season partisan like me it's not even that the postseason will play an outsized role in the way we remember 2013.
It's that this feels like the best way to play baseball. We become fans of players, basically, by committing a bunch of fallacies the new critics would not appreciate—we transfer ideas about how we would behave if we were rich and famous onto the way they behave, and we wish we could be so fast or so strong, and the connection gets so ingrained that eventually the people who identify with Yasiel Puig and the people who identify with Adam Wainwright are ready to come to blows, once they ask themselves what Puig or Wainwright would do if he were instigating a fistfight.
These Cardinals, more than most successful Cardinals teams, demand that same transference on a team-wide level. If you're the kind of person who reads baseball blogs they're the kind of team you always wished you could create in Baseball Mogul, built on equal parts top prospects and shrewd scouting gambles and leavened with just the right amount of veterans with fascinating baseball cards.
And we know they'll continue to be successful, whether they win the pennant or not. But knowing personally that the team you've identified with is in good shape is different from watching it dramatized in a seven-game series. So we watch, and worry, and eventually we're rewarded with the chance to identify even more closely with it—to take those successes and failures personally even though we clearly shouldn't.